– a time which marked the ending and the beginning of the Celtic Year
Samhuinn, from October 31st to November 2nd, was a time of no-time. Celtic society, like all early societies, was highly structured and organised – everyone knew their place. But to allow that order to be psychologically comfortable, the Celts knew that there had to be a time when order and structure were abolished – when chaos could reign. And Samhuinn was such a time. Time was abolished for the three days of this festival, and people did crazy things – men dressed as women and women as men. Farmers’ gates were unhinged and left in ditches, peoples’ horses were moved to different fields, and children would knock on neighbors’ doors for food and treats in a way that we still find today, in a watered-down way, in the custom of trick-or-treating on Hallowe’en.
The Druids knew that these three days had a special quality about them. The veil between this world and the World of the Ancestors was drawn aside on these nights, and for those who were prepared, journeys could be made in safety to the ‘other side’. The Druid rites, therefore, were concerned with making contact with the spirits of the departed, who were seen as sources of guidance and inspiration rather than as sources of dread. The dark moon, the time when no moon can be seen in the sky, was the phase of the moon which ruled this time, because it represents a time in which our mortal sight needs to be obscured in order for us to see into the other worlds.
The dead are honoured and feasted, not as the dead, but as the living spirits of loved ones and of guardians who hold the root-wisdom of the tribe. With the coming of Christianity, this festival was turned into All Hallows [commonly referred to as Hallowe’en on October 31st], All Saints [November 1st] and All Souls [November 2nd]. Here we can see most clearly the way in which Christianity built on the pagan foundations it found rooted in these isles. Not only does the purpose of the festival match with the earlier one, but even the unusual length of the festival is the same.